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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Vaccine-autism link fails critical test, slowly dissolves”

    For the most part, our society embraces science. We find it to be reasonable and logical. It makes sense to us and it helps us better understand the world at large. Take the germ theory of disease, for instance. We know that microorganisms like parasites and bacteria are responsible for many diseases. But we didn’t always know this, you see. Robert Koch used science to verify this theory.

    Sometimes, for whatever reason, we take a good hard look at the science and we reject its truth. This is not because the science is faulty; we simply fail to see its simple truth. The unproven link between vaccines and autism is a good example of this phenomenon, for many people ignore the scientific evidence in favor of their own personal beliefs. When it comes to the vaccine-autism controversy, some of us possess an unwillingness to accept basic scientific truths.

    Some people argue vehemently that early childhood vaccines cause autism spectrum disorders, a group of highly variable developmental disorders. Proponents of this notion speak loudly of an indisputable link between vaccines and autism. They shout, they scream, they protest, they cry foul, they speak of corporate cover-ups. Sadly, too, they malign vaccines and incite fear in the rest of society. However, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, we have in the back of our minds this idea that maybe these people are right – just maybe there is a link. We, too, begin to ignore the hard science.

    We see Jenny McCarthy on Larry King Live and on Oprah and think to ourselves, “”Wow, here’s a gorgeous Hollywood star, a mom with an autistic son, and she thinks vaccines cause autism, so it must be true.”” We don’t care that Jenny McCarthy has no background in immunology, or in any science for that matter. She’s sympathetic and outraged at these vaccine manufacturers, so by golly, there must be a link!

    However, there is a fatal hiccup in this logic to which we succumb, for there has never been a link, there continues to be no link and there will never be a link between vaccines and autism. The bulk of the scientific evidence demonstrates this very fact.

    Last week, for example, a special court ruled against parents who support this vaccine-autism speculation. The court decided that vaccines containing a mercury-preservative called thimerosal were not responsible for their children’s autism. The court’s three Special Masters concluded that, “”It was abundantly clear that petitioners’ theories of causation were speculative and unpersuasive.””

    The majority of the evidence overwhelmingly rejects any sort of correlative or causative link between vaccines and autism. CNN reports, “”In defending its conclusion that no link exists, the Institute of Medicine cited five large studies that have failed to prove any connection between autism and thimerosal and 14 large studies finding no link between the MMR vaccine and autism.”” Quite plainly, the link is missing in action.

    For its part, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asserts, “”The medical and scientific communities have carefully and thoroughly reviewed the evidence concerning the vaccine-autism theory and have found no association between vaccines and autism.””

    Thus this “”link”” we’ve come to ponder in our minds is mythical and nonexistent, a fabrication concocted by a disreputable doctor who himself admits the shortcomings of his hypothesis, saying, “”I would absolutely agree it’s not proved. Nor have I ever claimed that it’s proved.””

    Yet despite all of the evidence and research from esteemed scientists and reputable organizations, there are those of us who continue to believe this fallacy that vaccines somehow bring about autism. There are those of us who choose not to vaccinate our children; instead, we opt to expose them to easily preventable diseases because of an irrational fear we’ve concocted in our minds.

    So why do some of us continue to buy into a fiction that hampers research that seeks to illuminate the true causes of autism and its potential treatments?

    Perhaps it’s because it’s a neat and simple idea, like Koch’s germ theory of disease mentioned above. It gives autism a definitive cause. It assigns blame. It produces an easily identifiable culprit. It offers a chance for compensation. There are many reasons why people buy into this claim, but regardless of the reason, the notion remains unsubstantiated. There is simply no evidence that indicates vaccines are to blame for autism.

    In response to last week’s ruling, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a statement that reads in part, “”Hopefully, the determination by the Special Masters will help reassure parents that vaccines do not cause autism.””

    Instead, though, supporters of the vaccine-autism “”theory”” – a ludicrous idea that centers on an imaginary, completely anecdotal link that defies our best science – vow to continue the fight to “”prove”” their claim. Perhaps, then, it’s not the truth they seek.

    If only we could hear the basic truths of science and apply them in meaningful, intelligent ways. Yes, what a world that would be.

    Justin Huggins is a senior majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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